The Indian men’s football team put up another lacklustre display as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Sri Lanka in the SAFF Championship in Male, Maldives on Thursday.
The result that follows a 1-1 draw against ten-man Bangladesh puts big pressure on coach Igor Stimac who has now overseen just three wins in 19 matches as the head coach of the team.
Sri Lanka, ranked 98 places below India in the Fifa rankings, put up a dogged defensive display to restrict India to few clear cut chances in the ninety minutes to record their first point of the campaign in three matches.
For India, it was a similar story under Stimac as they lacked any kind of creativity in front of goal and were frustrated by a team that sat deep in its own half.
India though, actually started brightly and peppered the Bangladesh area with crosses, especially from the left-hand side where Mandar Rao Dessai, playing like an auxiliary winger, enjoyed plenty of space.
India created the best opening of the first quarter when Udanta Singh found Liston Colaco with a cross, but the ATK Mohun Bagan forward who was completely unmarked at the far post got his header all wrong and headed it over in the 22nd minute.
Sri Lanka were giving away and attracting many fouls and were able to disrupt the flow of the game successfully as India lost momentum.
India failed to produce any good chance of note till the interval as Sri Lanka went into the break, the happier of the two sides.
Yasir Mohammad replaced Suresh Singh Wangjam for the second half as India benefited from an extra attacker. His cross from the left-hand side was directed goalwards by Chhetri whose header was kept out by the Sri Lankan goalkeeper. Minutes later, Dessai drilled a low cross once again from the left flank across the face of the goal but Anirudh Thapa didn’t get a proper connection to tap it home.
Chhetri then released Udanta Singh behind the Sri Lankan defence but his rushed cross had no takers inside the box.
But after this dominant spell around the hour mark, India lost momentum again as Sri Lanka continued to frustrate the Indians by wasting as much time as possible on free-kicks. India brought on Sahal Abdul Samad and Farukh Choudhary but the changes made little impact on the game as the Blue Tigers failed to penetrate the deep Lankan defence enough.
India though had a glorious chance to win the game in the 89th minute when Chhetri’s flicked header from a corner fell to Subhashish Bose who was four yards out with virtually an empty net in front of him. But the full-back failed to control the finish and put it over.
The referee added on eight minutes of stoppage time that were later extended to ten, because of the time that was lost, but India could hardly fashion a chance to break the deadlock.
India sit third in the table after the first two matches and have a fight on their hands to even qualify for the final. They next face Nepal on Sunday, who have won both matches in the tournament so far.